On not judging

Prayer dogIn the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 7, verse 1, Jesus tells his disciples not to judge others. In the King James version the text reads, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

This same advice comes from the Buddhist tradition. Charlotte Joko Beck wrote this in her book Every Day Zen: “When that development is complete (which means that there is nothing on the face of the earth that we judge), that is the enlightened and compassionate state.” (Emphasis added).

The development she is referring to is the ability to step beyond the influence of our own thoughts and observe reality as it is without giving in to the impulse to change what we see. Ms. Beck is not advocating religious dogma, and I don’t think the teaching in Matthew was either. She is simply providing guidance on how to experience reality.

Most of us, I expect, judge everything, even the line at the fast food counter: “I shouldn’t have to wait this long!”

At the moment Rachel Dolezal is in the news for claiming that she is black. She is being judged by lots of people. Those who treat black people differently than they treat white people could simply add her to the list of people they disrespect. Instead, they judge her.

I don’t think people are defined by their appearance, or who their parents are, so she can make any claim she likes, as far as I am concerned.

Jesus is quoted as saying that our treatment of others will bounce back on us, be it good treatment or bad treatment. Criticizing Rachel Dolezal puts a burden on the critic. That is what Zen practice teaches us, to recognize the burdens anger and resentment create for us. Judgment is usually allied with both of those emotions, perhaps with some fear added in.

Joseph Campbell provided us with extraordinary guidance on how rejecting what we see infuses us with pain. He said, “A demon or devil is a power in you to which you have not given expression, an unrecognized or suppressed god. Anyone who is unable to understand a god sees it as a devil.” This advice comes from A Joseph Campbell Companion, edited by Diane K. Osbon.

Populating our personal world with devils leads to more and more judgments as we become increasingly wary and defensive. It is quite the vicious circle.

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